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As others have, I thank Margaret Mitchell for the motion and thank all members for the contributions that we have heard across the chamber this evening.
The debate has been enjoyable because it has enabled us to have the opportunity to reflect on—and celebrate—the role of the Scottish Parliament over the past 20 years and the role that the third sector has played in shaping the Scotland that we live in today: a Scotland where our people are at the heart of policy making and a Scotland that is brave, progressive and ambitious.
The book that the SCVO has produced is a beautiful illustration of the story of the third sector over the past two decades. In those reflections of the past 20 years, we see Scotland shaping its policies and approaches to respond to its distinctive needs. The reconvening of our Parliament signalled not just the creation of a new legislature but the flourishing of a confident civic Scotland and a third sector that has a platform to influence and to bring about lasting change. Indeed, this Parliament was brought about not just by politicians but by that mass momentum to bring decision making closer to home.
Although we have had the chance as parliamentarians to celebrate the anniversary of this Parliament, tonight is a really useful opportunity to celebrate the role of the third sector and its positive influence in Scottish public life. It has been valuable to hear directly from members about their experiences and the things that they have achieved through the past 20 years that have been shaped by the third sector. Margaret Mitchell spoke authoritatively and with great passion from the outset about the impact of the third sector that she felt during the scrutiny of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill—an issue of great relevance to the on-going investigation in Essex, which shows how important it is to make sure that we get those policies and legislation right. The process of going from having a member’s bill to the Government adopting a bill and the bill being passed— enabled through involvement and engagement by the third sector—again shows the knitting together of one Parliament coming together to achieve great things.
Elaine Smith also spoke about something that is not part of the book: her involvement in work to move forward breastfeeding.
When I became a breastfeeding mum, I did so in a country that had been influenced by the work that Elaine Smith and the third sector had done to make my experience far easier than that of many of the mums who had gone before me. That positive impact that the Parliament and its members have on people’s day-to-day lives is something that we should not forget, among all the uncertainty that surrounds us.
Kenny Gibson spoke about some of the massive things that the Parliament has achieved, such as the smoking ban and the abolition of tuition fees—hugely impactful policies that were influenced and pushed through by the flourishing third sector that we are right to celebrate tonight.
Regardless of the policies that we pursue, Gordon Lindhurst was correct to point out the day-to-day impact of the third sector on all our lives, irrespective of what we do here. Third sector organisations operate with an authenticity and a reach that we perhaps cannot have as a Government and that local government cannot have, because those organisations are agile, they are part of our community and they have day-to-day interaction with people who require our support. That all points to the need to ensure that we celebrate the role of the third sector, as we did on the 20th anniversary of the Parliament.
Tonight’s debate gives me the chance, thinking about my own experience as a parliamentarian and a minister, to consider what the third sector has done. The passing of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was touched on in the SCVO’s book. One of the biggest things that impacted on me was the continue to care campaign, which has kick-started an on-going dialogue with our care-experienced young people, who deserve our doing all that we can, as their corporate parents, to make life as good as it can be. That initiative was pushed through by third sector organisations enabling a dialogue between parliamentarians and young people. That shaped and honed the legislation to create a culture where the young people who will experience care in the future have better life opportunities than those who went before them.
The influence of the third sector continues in my current portfolio. Third sector organisations have been a key partner in our fight to end poverty and to create a social security system based on dignity, fairness and respect.
The SCVO and many of its members have been important critical friends throughout the devolution of social security. The United Nations special rapporteur, Professor Philip Alston, recently said that the spirit of the welfare state is still alive in Scotland, and I believe that that is thanks to the third sector and its support for it.
That relationship with the third sector was particularly important for the development of our new Scottish child payment, which I was proud to announce on 26 June. The Child Poverty Action Group has called the new payment “an absolute game changer” in tackling poverty, and it represents a really important way in which we are putting our ambitious tackling child poverty delivery plan into action.
As we know, the Scottish child payment will be delivered by Social Security Scotland, with £10 per week per child for eligible families in receipt of qualifying benefits. Poverty campaigners had stressed the importance of taking immediate action to help struggling families, and representatives from across civil society wrote to the First Minister, calling for the benefit to be introduced as quickly as possible. Again, we listened to the third sector, we responded to the calls that were made, we acted when we needed to and we worked and engaged with the third sector to ensure that the policy was absolutely right. That illustrates the knitting together of the Government, parliamentarians and the third sector to ensure that we can develop policies that work for the people of this country.
Devolution and the re-establishment of this Parliament undoubtedly marked a turning point in Scotland’s history, and allowed us to make our own decisions on the priorities for Scotland’s people. It has given us the freedom to do things differently, and it has afforded us the opportunity to take a different path.
I believe that we have collectively achieved an awful lot over the past 20 years, and I value the role that the third sector has played in that journey. It is an honour and a privilege to be a member of the Parliament, and I am really proud of the lively and vibrant democracy that we have in our country, where people and communities are empowered and supported to participate in and shape society. At a time of uncertainty, we want to encourage that, not deter it. We welcome debate and challenge, and we see that as an essential part of the democratic process.
There is no escaping the fact that we live in uncertain times. None of us really knows what challenges will unfold over the next 20 years, but I know that the Government and Parliament will continue to view the third sector as a key strategic partner, and we will continue to value the role that third sector organisations play in helping us to tackle poverty, reduce inequality and create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.
As we look to the future—to the next 20 years—it seems fitting to end by reflecting on Donald Dewar’s words in his speech at the opening of the Parliament 20 years ago. He said:
“We are fallible ... We will make mistakes. But ... we will never lose sight of what brought us here: the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the common weal.”
That is what we all endeavour to do, and it is what we have done for 20 years in this Parliament, aided by the third sector. That has allowed us to look back with pride on the achievements of the Parliament; to look to the future in relation to what we need to achieve to create the fairer Scotland that we all seek; to ensure that we have wellbeing at the heart of all that we do; and to ensure that together we can create a better Scotland that will enable future generations to enjoy living here. That Scotland will be shaped by a strong Parliament, but it is critical that it is helped by the third sector to ensure that we get decisions right.
I thank Margaret Mitchell and every member who has taken part in the debate. I give my sincere thanks to the members of the third sector and the SCVO who are in the public gallery, because they do so much to help to improve the lives of others.
Meeting closed at 17:30.